Thanksgiving – Kindness and Happiness

Brighten someone’s day.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I have been thinking about how each one of us has the capacity within ourselves to spread kindness and happiness in our own way.

Not long ago, I wrote a post entitled Voting is an Environmental Act hoping to help readers connect how voting or not voting affects the environment. I believe spreading kindness and happiness are also environmental acts. This is why.

You and I share a wondrous sphere that we call Earth with billions of other people and non-human living things. Earth is our home, our only home.

People are struggling to survive and so is Earth. It is going to take all of us working together for the common good to heal our planet so that humans and non-humans can enjoy life and thrive.

Only a society of people who respect, value, and care for each other will be able to accomplish what we need to do. Hate, anger, and fear will not get the job done.

Every time you or I encounter another human being in person or in the digital world, we can choose to act with kindness and spread some happiness. I know this is not a novel concept. I am just trying to reinforce it.

For my part, I am endeavoring to be more kind (a work in progress) and to sprinkle a little bit of happiness in my neighborhood on the California Central Coast.

Happiness Sprinkling Project

Laura Lavigne started the Happiness Sprinkling Project in 2012 to sprinkle some happiness in her town of Anacortes, WA with hopes that the idea would spread. It has—all across the country and around the world.

People Wearing Yellow Standing on Street Corner Holding Happiness Sprinkling Signs
A group of people standing on a street corner sprinkling happiness on passersby and offering free hugs. Photo credit Happiness Sprinkling Project (click the photo to visit their website).

The photo above illustrates the simple yet compelling concept. People, often wearing yellow, gather on a street corner or near a sidewalk and hold up inspirational signs to lift the spirits of the people who pass by.

A business card that says “You Rock!” inspired me to adapt the happiness sprinkling idea to my yard.

You can read more about Laura’s Happiness Sprinkling Project and about how I came to have a “You Rock!” card on my desk in the post entitled, Can Happiness Save the World?

Happiness Sprinkling for Shy Introverts

Perhaps if I were an outgoing extroverted person I would have organized a happiness sprinkling in my small town. However, each morning I continue to wake up as the shy introverted person that I am. After pondering ways to spread some happiness in my neighborhood, I came up with the idea of making a sign that said “You Rock!” and putting it in our yard.

One evening in September 2017, I broached the subject with my family during dinner. They did not immediately take to the idea. Nor were they enthusiastic about me writing a post about happiness. A lively discussion ensued.

One comment was that it might be a waste of time and energy as the sign might go unnoticed. Someone else wanted to know what happiness had to do with my core mission, which is trying to convince you, me, and everyone else to live more lightly on Earth. My spouse saw it as another project I would need assistance to accomplish (rightly so).

Undaunted, I declared that happiness is pertinent to the environment. I told my family it would be worth it to me if only one person had her or his spirits raised by seeing a “You Rock!” sign in our yard. Someone replied, “How will you ever know?” That was a good point. However, I decided to proceed and have faith that it would brighten someone’s day even if I never knew it.

My mechanically inclined and creative spouse decided to help me by constructing a weather-resistant sign holder and using Photoshop to create the “You Rock!” sign on three letter-size pieces of printer paper. We installed the sign holder in our yard in a place visible to people driving their cars or walking up and down our street.

Green Groundswell You Rock Yard Sign
The sign holder and our first happiness sprinkling sign were installed in October 2017.

Almost immediately, I decided it would be fun to have a different sign each month. The printer paper sign had been difficult to make and was not durable so my spouse suggested we have some signs made out of corrugated plastic.

We both wanted to use sayings that are universal and are not political or religious in nature so that no one would be offended, even if she or he did not like the saying.

A Year of Sprinkling Happiness

Starting in October 2017, on the first day of each month (or close to it), my spouse and I have been changing out the sign. I thought I took a photo of each one, but apparently, I missed January and September. I photographed those signs last weekend to complete my collection.

You can see how little rain we had during last year’s rain cycle by how few signs show green wild grasses in the background.

During the past year, I received a few waves and a couple of honks from people driving by while I was working in the yard near the sign holder. Perhaps this was just neighbors being friendly and had nothing to do with the happiness sprinkling yard signs, but maybe it did.

On the evening of October 10, a year after we began the happiness sprinkling yard sign project, something unexpected happened.

My spouse and I had walked from our house to the senior center to attend a candidate forum for our local water district board of directors. After the forum, we were trudging up our street (it never gets less steep) when a car stopped in the middle of the street next to us. The woman driving the car rolled down her window. I thought she was going to offer us a ride as some people do when they see us or other neighbors hiking up our street.

You cannot imagine my amazement when she said, “I just want to let know how much I enjoy your inspirational signs.” I said I was glad she was enjoying them and off she went.

This experience sprinkled some happiness on me and reinforced my belief that anyone and everyone can spread kindness and happiness each in our own way.

Thanksgiving is a good day to practice.

Featured Image at Top:  Thanksgiving Decorations with Gourds, Corn, and Paper Native American and Pilgrim – Photo Credit Shutterstock/Magdalena Kucova

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Thanksgiving – We are All Connected

On Thanksgiving step outside and share your gratitude.

This Thanksgiving I am mindful that people are part of nature not separate from it. Everything on Earth is worthy of our reverence and gratitude.

A few weeks ago, after an inspirational morning at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden in California, I knew that I wanted to write about the interconnectedness of nature (yes that includes people) for my Thanksgiving post this year.

It all began with a bowl of oatmeal.

But, before we get to the oatmeal, a bit of background may be useful.

My home is on the California Central Coast in the midst of one of the few remaining swaths of Monterey pine forest. Before we bought our home, the mostly wild yard had been untended for years so invasive plants had been encroaching unimpeded and some plants that had been purposefully planted had gotten out of control. Somehow, I got the possibly ridiculous and crazy idea in my head that we could restore our tiny piece of land and then it could encourage the neighboring land to go native.

With limited knowledge, a shovel and some clippers I set about removing the few invasive plants that I could identify. The flip side of invasive plants is native plants, which I am trying to learn about so we can encourage natives growing in our yard and plant others.

So, when I read about an upcoming event called the Chumash Kitchen at the botanical garden, I signed up my spouse and me. We were excited to have an opportunity to learn about native plants from two Chumash women (Jeanette and Violet) who are descendants of the people who have been living on the California Central Coast for thousands of years and we were looking forward to tasting some dishes made from locally foraged and harvested foods.

The Chumash Kitchen – November 2017

The day was warm with just a slight chill and the skies were cloudy and gray.

We arrived just in time for breakfast. I was somewhat dismayed to find that breakfast was oatmeal (I think it had ground acorns, too) because I seriously dislike oatmeal and have since I was a little kid. Not to be deterred from fully participating, I ladled a small portion into my bowl and topped it with several heaping spoonfuls of cut up local apple pieces. I was thankful to see there was coffee and poured myself a mug.

Group Photo Beneath Ancient Oak Tree in El Chorro Regional Park, San Luis Obispo, CA
Group Photo Beneath an Ancient Oak Tree in El Chorro Regional Park, San Luis Obispo, CA – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

After breakfast, the group headed out for a hike up to a sacred Chumash site. Along the way, one of the young participants introduced us to an oak tree that she and others had gathered acorns under two days before. At a magnificent and ancient oak tree, we stopped to admire its beauty and sense of history and to pose for a group photo.

Sacred Grinding Stones

A short uphill hike brought us to a small open area with huge boulders embedded in the ground. Scattered across the boulders were round indentations that had been created by the Chumash people who had been grinding acorns here for thousands of years. This is a sacred site for the Chumash people who live here now and we were asked not to take photos of the stones.

By now, we were all warmed up and feeling fortunate that the cloudy sky was keeping the sun from beating down on our heads.

Jeanette began speaking of thankfulness and history and telling stories in a quiet and melodious voice. I remember her looking up at the cloudy sky, smiling, and saying, “The Mother is smiling on us this morning.” or something very close to that. What a delightful way of expressing gratitude for clouds.

View Looking Away from Sacred Chumash Grinding Stones near Eagle Rock Nature Trail in San Luis Obispo, CA
View Looking Away from the Sacred Chumash Grinding Stones near Eagle Rock Nature Trail in San Luis Obispo, CA – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

While Jeanette was speaking, Violet circumnavigated the group carrying a smoldering bunch of white sage. She paused at each person and using her hand wafted the smoke over us. This simple act seemed to connect us all even though many of us did not know each other. I came away with the understanding that white sage is honored for its healing qualities and is used for blessing people.

Before making our way back down the hill, we were each given the opportunity to make an offering by placing a small pinch of tobacco leaves into one of the grinding holes and saying a prayer (out loud if we wanted to). My prayer (said silently) was that my children and everyone else’s children would have a habitable planet to live on in years to come.

Oak Trees and Acorns

Back at the garden event center, while Violet and a small contingent of volunteers were preparing lunch in the kitchen, we learned about the history of oak trees over thousands of years and Jeanette entertained us with stories.

Acorns were and still are an important food for Chumash people. We learned from Jeanette that some acorns are always left under the oak trees for those who do not speak. She referred to people, plants, trees, and animals as her kin. Hearing her speak with such respect and reverence for every living thing struck a chord in me. It feels right.

San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden Volunteers Preparing Acorns
Volunteers of All Ages Preparing Acorns for the Meals to be Served at the Chumash Kitchen Event – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden
A Locally Foraged and Harvested Lunch

Before the lunch meal was served, Violet described the locally foraged and harvested ingredients and how they were prepared. I admit that once the mouth-watering plate of food was placed in front of me, I could not remember everything that had gone into making it.

I do remember a few things like the silky feel of the acorn gravy that had been ladled over a stuffed and roasted acorn squash. The Manzanita vinaigrette was tart and fragrant. Who knew you could make salad dressing from a Manzanita plant? The sautéed greens looking suspiciously like kale were tasty with a sort of acidic twang. I think ancient Chumash people probably did not have ice cream, but it was delicious melting on top of an apple crumble made with local apples and garnished with acorn dust.

The gathering ended with a traveling song. Feeling replete and uplifted we headed home.

Thanksgiving Gratitude

The reverence and gratitude that Violet and Jeanette had expressed for, well, everything stayed with me. So did the way they had spoken of the non-human members of nature as their kin and neighbors.

I frequently talk to trees, houseplants, and the variety of animals wandering and flying through our yard. However, I do not think I was conversing with them as peers, neighbors, or potential allies.

During the week following the event, I knew that something had shifted in my relationship with nature when I found myself apologizing to the ice plant that I was removing from my yard because it was choking out everything else. Another day, when a big buck deer wandered into the yard while I was working, I politely asked him if he would come back later. As he sauntered away, I could almost hear him thinking, “I was just passing through anyway.” When I noticed that somebody was living beneath and chewing on the roots of our lion’s tail plant, I suggested to the unseen neighbor that we try to work things out (the jury is still out on that one).

Although I do not fully understand how the diversity of life on Earth makes Earth, well, Earth, I do believe that everything connects somehow. People do not have dominion over nature we are part of it.

This year, I propose that we enlarge our gratitude circle beyond the family and friends gathered around our Thanksgiving tables to the whole of nature.

On Thanksgiving, take the opportunity to step outside for a few minutes or a long time and give thanks to a tree, a bird, a spider, a flower, a lake, a plant, or a mountain. How do you give thanks to a tree? It is up to you. Perhaps with a gentle hug, a prayer, a gift of water, listening, or just saying thank you. You get the idea.

“I see a world in the future in which we understand that all life is related to us and we treat that life with great humility and respect.” – David Suzuki

Happy Thanksgiving!

Featured Image at Top: Give Thanks in Block Letters with Fall Leaves, Acorns, and Pine Cones – Photo Credit iStock/jenifoto

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